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University of Haifa International School Student Blog

Cultural Differences

The University of Haifa is comprised of two main schools. First you have the regular university where the students are mainly native Israelis with a smattering of international students. The second, the one I am apart of, is the International School which encompasses undergraduate studies as well as several masters programs. When they say international, they really mean international. I have met people from every continent, aside from Antarctica and Australia. Students hail from Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Japan, China, South Africa, Ghana, Brazil, and more. Not only do these diverse origins bring names I have trouble remembering, they bring a diverse bank of knowledge.

As the international students are all getting to know each other, we’ve found that the place to really bond is at the campus club (moadon in Hebrew). One night during the first week, I sat with some American friends as well as a friend from Switzerland. The four of us sat and had real conversations about Swiss politics versus American politics. We talked about how the voting process works in America versus Switzerland, a bit about how the two legal systems compare, etc. Call me nerdy, but it was fascinating to have a conversation about foreign politics with someone who wasn’t a professor, but someone who actually lives and studies these politics. We all come from different backgrounds, we are all different ages, and we all have something to share with one another.

Not only are we teaching each other the ins and outs of our communities back home, we are also learning about everyone’s personal lives. We share what our families are like, our likes and dislikes, our religious beliefs, etc. We have discussed what we are studying and how we made the decision to come to Israel, particularly the University of Haifa, for a study abroad or masters programs. I have found this part rather intriguing, as everyone has similar, yet wildly different reasons for coming here. (Refer to my previous blog for why I chose University of Haifa if you need a refresher) For me, Israel is important because it’s the Jewish homeland. It has the Western Wall, City of David, Masada, and a whole list of other holy sites. It’s been engrained in my brain that Israel is a place for Jewish people to come together and be Jewish. A place to escape persecution if necessary; a place for Jewish life and culture to flourish without hinderance. For other international students, this is mainly not the case. Some find a similar religious appeal to the country, though taking a Christian viewpoint as opposed to a Jewish one. Israel is a holy site for not only Jewish people, but also Muslims and Christians, a well known fact that I was aware of before coming here. I’ve learned it several times in comparative religion courses, Sunday School, and anything relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Only now did I truly learn what these holy sites mean to people of other faiths.

The only other time I have been in Israel was with 80 something other Jewish American teens, very little diversity there. Obviously I had a great time, I even came back, but it was a very one sided view of Israel. Now we are taking trips to not only the Western Wall (which was a religious experience for more than just the Jewish students), we are also visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and possibly Nazareth. I was not allowed to go to either of these places the last time I was in Israel, but I’m very glad I am getting the chance to go this time around. As we wandered through the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I saw many students stop at various sites to pray and just gaze at their religious history. As a Jew, I see only the historical relevance of the Holy Sepulcher, but for others, it’s a major site for the religion that guides them in their everyday life. It’s definitely a different experience galavanting around Jerusalem with people who don’t come from the same religious background.

This is exactly what I was looking for in a study abroad program; the program is culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse. I’m engaging in interesting conversations with people from all over the world, gaining worldly knowledge outside of the classroom. Aside from some language issues, I’m integrated into the community, not living as a total tourist.

By: Sari Kreines

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About haifainternationalschool

Marketing Director for the University of Haifa International School. Offering students from over 40 countries around the world an academic summer,semester or yearlong opportunity in Haifa!

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